Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley at Futureappletree Too
There was a jar of moonshine getting passed around here this past Saturday. There was a swig here and a swig there. People were offered the jar, asked if they wanted some and the common refrain was, "Yeah, I'd better have some of that," followed by the cheerful warning of, "That shit will fuck you up." It carried a slightly yellowed color, as if it had been baked out in the sunlight, on the front stoop with the iced tea. Its consistency was deceptively mild, not the flavor of a permanent marker that was partially expected and it was perfect for the point in the night where it wasn't so late and still it wasn't too early. It was that burn of the shine that, when you haven't had it in a while, you forget about. It comes back to you quickly, as it gives you those warm shivers, about how temporarily lucid it makes you, as if someone just set fire to the room you're in and then just as spontaneously doused the fire.
The random and welcome fires are the ones that John Fullbright, a singer and songwriter from Bearden, Oklahoma, puts in us. He doesn't just show them. He literally puts them in us somehow, for his music isn't anything passive. It works on you and stirs you mightily. It's full of so many bits and pieces of the holy trinity of love, booze and religion, and they're presented as you would show off fresh wound that you got in a motorcycle spill that you were amazingly able to get up and walk away from, though you don't look all that good. As a matter of fact, you look like hell warmed over, but the darker parts of the stories all start to sound prophetic, as turning points and blessings are counted in a way that they've never really been counted before and you're changing as you speak. You're changing others as you're speaking and suddenly the loneliness, the painful wounds and everything else that you've been wrestling with are trying to make good. You may not have been looking down while you've been praying lately, but things are changing and you see more sense in it. The lights may have been seeming dimmer and dimmer the later into the night that you've been staying up and trying to concentrate on the books you've been reading, but the color that they've been casting doesn't feel so drab or ominous anymore, once Fullbright has sung to us.
He takes us into his rough patches and he takes us into what feel like the beginnings of recovery and it's then that the fire starts to warm more than it scalds and burns. He kinda doesn't care if it treats him both ways. He finds that he understands why it needs to be both ways. He looks for reflection in the places that he's heard others have found it and seeks for a repeat. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's just him getting spooked by an image of himself in the window behind him while he's pulling another beer out of the fridge at midnight.
*Essay originally published August, 2012. These three songs were recorded just days after the devastating tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, just miles from Fullbright's home.